In Mali, the SNEC (National Union of Education and Culture) has contributed since 2014 to the development of child labour free zones in the regions of Bougouni, Niono, Macina, Dioila and Bla in partnership with local NGOs (ENDA Alphalog and CAEB).
"Our starting point is the training of teachers in the targeted areas" says Soumeïla H Maiga, Coordinator of the project under the auspice of the SNEC. "In the schools of each village, the Headteachers are trained along with teaching staff who become the focal point of the project. Using an EI manual, they are taught, for example, the definition of child labour, communication techniques to talk to parents and activities aimed at raising awareness of the importance of education ". 920 teachers in 48 schools were trained by the SNEC during this project.
After the training programme, each focal point creates an 'anti-child labour club' in its school, composed of 12 students (six girls and six boys). Members of the club undertake awareness-raising activities within the school on risks related to child labour practices. They identify children in their neighbourhood who are not enrolled in school, finding out about the reasons behind their non-enrolment and notifying their focal point teacher of this, who in turn contacts the child not receiving schooling, or their parents. "The information provided by these students helps me to define my strategy when I try to convince a child worker or his parents of the need to return to school" explains Noumoutieba Diarra, focal point teacher at the Ouroun school (Bougouni Region). "SNEC training also helps me because I have learned to communicate better with a child's relatives, listening carefully to their concerns before trying to convince them".
Village elders support SNEC
Monitoring committees are set up by the SNEC in each project commune. They are composed of the elders from the village (traditional and religious leaders, representatives of women's associations, employers, etc.) and serve to support the awareness raised to combat child labour and the fostering of education. Joint actions on the part of the focal point, the anti-child labour club and the Monitoring Committee almost always lead to the return of a former worker to schooling. This was the case for Soumba, a 14-year-old girl living in the commune of Dossola in the Bougouni region: "I left school in March 2016 because my family could not afford my school fees. I started working on the gold panning site located two hours walk from Dossola. Twice the members of the anti-child labour club and the monitoring committee came to talk to me at my workplace to convince me of the need to go back to school. I was so impressed and touched that so many people were willing to travel to my place of work. My father pledged in front of all these people to find somehow the means to pay my school fees, so I was able to re-enter the school".
A general assembly is organised in each village targeted by the project. "At a general assembly, the traditional chief of the village summons the entire population to notify them of an important topic, namely the importance of education. Everyone has the right to express themselves, though at the end of the assembly, the traditional chief affirms that from now on, child labour will no longer be tolerated in the village. This type of decision, taken by highly respected local authorities, is of great help in convincing parents to send all their children to school" explains Noumoutieba Diarra. "If a parent does not abide by the norms, pressure is exerted on them" explains Sandy Bagayogo, the village chief of Yerefounela and Chairman of the Monitoring Committee created by the SNEC. "Throughout each harvest, a group of young people comes together to help each other. Whichever parent refuses to send their child to school can be excluded from this form of solidarity, thus they will quickly understand that education has become one of our village's priorities".
Mothers of students raise awareness
The SNEC encourages the focal points to create Associations of Pupils' Mothers (APM) to increase awareness. "Mothers hold a key role in education in Mali, they can influence their husbands and their children to continue schooling" says Soumeïla H Maiga. "The APMs strengthen the work of monitoring committees, focal points and anti-child labour clubs". Madié Bagayogo, member of the Ouroun APM: "I use highly specific examples to raise awareness among working children. I tell them that if the teachers are in such a position, with a guaranteed salary, it is because they have studied well during their childhood. One of the dangers facing girls is to leave school to go to Bamako, where they work in the domestic sector and are exposed to numerous forms of abuse. I quote the example of other girls in the village who became pregnant in town, who came back but who were outcast by the community. These examples make them think, then they return to school". In Yerefounela (Bougouni region), the APM created a small fund to support education. "Each member deposits 100 CFA francs (0.15 euro) per week into this fund. It is used to help the school purchase a small amount of materials, to offer a little help to a student in difficulty" explains Kadjiné Doumbia, treasurer of this association.
Since 2014, more than 1000 children have returned to school thanks to this project. School drop-out rates are plummeting in most of the schools. In Syentoula (Bougouni region), for example, no children have dropped out of school for one year and the pupils' school results are improving. "This represents very important encouragement for teachers" Daouda Diakité, the Headteacher of the Syentoula School told us. "Their motivation increases because no more pupils drop out. They have developed additional remediation courses, especially for ex-child workers who we are in the process of reintegration".
The involvement of the SNEC in this project generates highly specific benefits for the education union. Soumeïla H Maiga: "Many new members have been recruited thanks to teacher training, we have also gained visibility in Malian society. Participation in this type of project strengthens our lobbying stance with the authorities for quality education. We have succeeded in managing to add the topic of child labour in the government's official education programme. This project also strengthens our advocacy for the integration of community teachers into public service, which is another Project supported by EI. To date, we have been able to achieve this integration for 800 teachers, under vastly improved employment conditions".
To learn more about child labour free zones click here.